The Outlook: Whom to Believe?

Mark Twain said it best. "There are liars, damn liars and then there’s statistics." Yet, how would we live without all those number crunchers in a country as big and complex as the United States? This is particularly true when it comes to getting a handle on manufacturing trends. For example:

• Unemployment is up. The economy "lost" over 300,000 non-agricultural jobs in February. That's the biggest drop since 9/11. It compares to some 160,000 in January. Many economists are worried that the recovery is stalling.

• Productivity, however, has continued to climb throughput the recession we officially left a year ago. In fact, U.S. productivity in manufacturing remains among the very top among industrial countries in the world.

• Millions of people are still trying to enter the country - legally and otherwise, according to the Census Bureau. They say the huge increases in immigrants that characterized the 1990s is continuing. The number of foreign born people in the country increased by around 2.5 million in the two years from March of 2000 to 2002. That's actually a higher rate of growth than the 90s.

Now I'm not sure what Mr. Twain might say about all of the above, but I think I see a lot of good news in those numbers. First, the "lost jobs" number. That 300,000 might include a lot of reservists who have been called up, I’m told. And, even with that number of layoffs, the unemployment rate, well under six percent, remains well under other recession-ending periods. It was nearly eight percent in 1991. Those numbers also mean some 94 percent of us are still plugging away on the job.

Productivity, however, is no mystery at all. In fact, if we were not all so worried and preoccupied with the international situation, we’d be bragging about our output per man-hour. It's stupendous, and it keeps going up in our manufacturing sector. Investments made a few years ago are paying off big for manufacturers.

And, finally, all those new people pouring into the country. I know many of you are concerned that there may be a terrorist element in that number. So am I. However, the vast majority of those new Americans, legal and otherwise, are coming here because of opportunity. They come here even though the employment situation may be worsening and the jobs they find will be menial and poor paying by our standards. They come here because, from their point of view, the statistics are terrific.

Over the next many months we may be involved in very difficult times militarily. We may be in for some shocks, some ugly events. But, behind our actions overseas and our discussions at home we can all be confident about a few things.

One is that America's industrial might can provide for all and any military needs. The past decade’s advances in manufacturing technology and systems as well as productivity mean that we will, once again, amaze the world with our ability to develop and deliver.

Recent developments in material handling technology and systems were on display at ProMat, and they were proof positive that when it comes to the factory floor, the technology revolution is continuing. Equipment and systems investments made today will be part of the productivity and quality numbers coming out in the near future.

Consider what we've been through. The economy and the American people have past through some terrific shocks in the past two years. Horribly successful terrorists in New York, hypocrisy and corruption in top business management, and a burst bubble worth trillions in stock market speculation; any one of these would bring down most governments. We have moved on and we are, in typical American fashion, arguing and working our way to solutions.

Then there's the biggest source of optimism I can find anywhere in the world. That's how people vote — with their feet and their futures. Millions of poor people are trying to enter into this wonderful American world of ours. They've lived elsewhere. They know. They don’t need any statistics to make their decisions. Their bet is on us. So is mine. [email protected]

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